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Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance

51ohGacem2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ This is one of many of Noam Chomsky’s works, this written in 2003.While it precedes much of the Iranian war obviously, it strikes a note that reinforces what we have come to know as the history of that fiasco.

Noam Chomsky is professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT. His research is impeccable and exhausting to some, but all the more convincing. He focuses on a couple of big cases to make his point.

Cuba and Iraq, in their tortured histories serve to show us that US policy when it comes to the world remains largely the same regardless of the administration. Both Democrats and Republicans are indicted, though no doubt we can all quibble as to who has done the most harm.

Chomsky takes us through various South American countries, where the US over decades worked tirelessly to destroy fledgling democracies in favor of repressive oligarchs, usually of military groups. You ask why? Because all that has ever mattered throughout US history has been essentially their demand that the rest of the world will bow to our business needs.

Regimes are supported because they open the doors to US economic exploitation (and their own private exploitation as well), while their people remain in squalor and near slavery. Good economies forged under tireless work by “the people” are trashed in favor of governments that are properly receptive to US goals.

The sources cited by Chomsky are not from unknown bloggers or other repudiated places, but often directly from the mouths of the actors themselves, speaking to each other through memoranda and internal position papers not meant for the eyes of the public. But even they are unable to contain the will to know the truth. Classified materials inevitably become declassified, and even the Russians start to open archives long closed to Western eyes.

Reading this makes one cringe, and makes one very ashamed.

You are unclear why so many millions hate America?

Read what we have done to them, and then ask, “why has it taken them so long?”

We of course are not alone in our Machiavellian designs. Europe has done the same, as has done all the major military mights throughout the world at different points in time. But we live in now, and in that now, America is the only country that poses the sort of threat to the rest of humanity today.

Polling across the world by Pew has uncovered an “inconvenient truth” for the American public. When asked who is the greatest terror threat in the world today, the world responds with a resounding, the USA. If you think that perhaps over-represents some group or other, think again. Canadians when polled, say the same thing.

We are the bully. We threaten, we don’t even bother with cajoling any more. We look with contempt upon the United Nations, bragging that we will be NOT be bound by any laws passed by them–meaning the rest of the world. “Enforce it if you can”, we proclaim. Meanwhile we block advances in peaceful diplomacy everywhere unless it suits our purpose.

Our purpose in the end is always the same–that US companies get the markets they desire and we get the resources we desire, the rest of the world be damned.

If Chomsky is new to you, this is a good start.

If you want to understand the state of the world and why America is so hated, this is a good start.

First and foremost, get over your fantasy that America is some chosen morsel given preferential treatment by God. America has and continues to take a page out of all the great powers and then do them one better. We are the bully. Only we can force our government to join a COMMUNITY of countries.

Read it.

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Between the World and Me

10BOOK-blog427-v2In college I read Baldwin, Fanon, Malcolm, DuBois and of course King. In my legal career, I worked much of it under African-American men and women within my own office and in the court system. I thought I had a handle on racism in this country.

Ta-Nehisi Coates taught me otherwise.

Mr. Coates ostensibly writes to his son, a young teen growing up in NYC, but the real audience for his book is certainly white America, or those of us who perhaps aren’t so deeply wedded to the “need to be white” syndrome, and can “hear” what Coates is saying.

If you look at reviews you will of course find the “seemingly sophisticated” responses that take issue with Coates “bigotry”, a thing that most racists love to engage in when they become uncomfortable that someone is piercing the veil of their racism.  But it is not bigotry to speak truth, and this Mr. Coates does admirably.

It is a truism that there is only so much relating that an individual can do regarding another. I can understand your pain at losing a child, but only in a superficial way if I have not lost one myself. And even if I have, I can only approximate your feelings on the subject to a greater or lesser extent, depending on my sensitivities. But here, Ta-Nehisi paints a portrait of growing up black in America that touches us deeply and allows us to penetrate the veil a bit more than we might expect.

It is a chilling rendition of life in urban America. It is shocking to say the least. Never again can one even “see” a group of young black boys on a street corner and think the same of them as before. Coates have forever changed the dynamics of any such encounter.

Toni Morrison, who wrote the forward, suggests that Coates may be the replacement for James Baldwin. Having read Baldwin, I can agree. It is difficult to read Coates in some measure precisely because it is hard to separate the amazing prose from the message. One is awed by both simultaneously and is continually marveling at the insights and the brilliantly turned phrase at the same time.

It is a feast for the lover of words.

I had to laugh at reading some of the reviews on Amazon. While overwhelmingly positive, there were exceptions, the usual suspects–white denials who lament that Mr. Coates has “failed to see that we have come a long way”. Isn’t that what all racists say? Isn’t that what they said to King? Every race discussion inevitably gets to “we have come a long way” as if that is solace to the millions who struggle, and die to live human. Can you even begin to come to grips with living in fear ALL the time? Can you ever come to grips with feeling “different” and “not at home” in so many places?

No.

We cannot, and yet we have lived (in white America) with this pretence all our lives too. The Dream, as Coates puts it,–(the one we all remember from the early days of TV) consists of suburbia and all that we immediately call to mind with that one word. We have made Coates’ world in order to continue believing in the Dream. We have built the ghettos and the walls and then we have adjudged the prisoners as guilty of not living in the prison in emulation of suburbia. But how could one?

Coates systematically points out the distortions that his life must inevitably come to because of the Dream. How being raised in a black lives don’t matter culture, distorts everything one sees, everywhere. His trip finally to Paris illustrates this so well.

Coates presents a painful but so very real picture of growing up black in America. It is one that every African-American will immediately get, even those who have risen from the ghetto and attempt to enrobe themselves in the Dream, often at the real expense of their fellow African-Americans. But the real beneficiaries of Coates journey are those of us who want to think we are white.

Being “white” is defined by who isn’t, and as such Coates makes the startling remark that without racism, being white would have no point to it. It is designed and promoted on the backs of “others”. And as such, it is a useless appelation, designed to protect an exceptionalism that is not real.

For, as Coates argues, if America is exceptional, how could it have chosen to fail so miserably at this thing of race, a term we now understand, to be essentially meaningless scientifically? All Coates sees is that we are still exceptionally racist, hardly a flag to wave to the world.

This should be required reading in every school in America. It ought to be on everybody’s coffee table. It ought to be read and talked about at every table in America. It is that important. Important to African-Americans surely, especially to young people who are just now trying to figure out how they fit in, and can live in America, but just as surely this book is essential to so-called “white” America which has yet to come to terms with its personal responsibility for what is still existing today.

This will go down as one of the most important books in the 21st century. Coates is a giant.

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What is God?

1124166 An interesting premise no? Not who is God but what is God?

John Haught begins immediately to take you from your comfort zone, from the words and phrases we so casually use in reference to God–to the way in which we visualize, speak of and think of God.

He grabs some of the most well-known challenges to God’s existence by today’s latest crop of atheists, and shows why their arguments can be quite shallow. With a turn of a phrase, he also draws atheists into the realm of belief by the very mystery of such terms as beauty and depth. If you can appreciate something as “beautiful” Haught insists, you are dancing with the divine.

In brief, Haught makes out the case that God resides in all the unanswerable questions of life. In those areas where we are nearly incapable of finding words to express our feeling or define our claims, God is.

Thus God is the “event horizon” of the future, the abiding abyss when we examine depth that both invites us forward into a deeper experience while at the same time frightening us with the unknowing of its depth and breadth.

Whether it be the concept of depth, future, freedom, truth, or beauty, we are pulled and yet repelled by each. That which is without boundary, both excites us and frightens us at the same time.

God is the mystery that we seek to understand.

Haught claims that God is perfect self-giving, and out of that perfect offering of self, God remains by choice apart from us, as necessary to full recognition of our right to choose freely our lives.

It is not that Haught proves the existence of God but rather than he makes a good case for the possibility of God and for that being a cogent and rational argument and choice.

He acknowledges that these mystical/mysterious occurrences that we all experience now and again, are either one of two things: either they are simple psycho-biologic responses of chemical interactions or they are bespeak a greater reality that they point to that is their grounding. That point is God.

Along the way, we see religion as the participatory vehicle for delving into this mystery. He describes religion as it should be, rather than what it is, and the picture presented, at least to me, gives credence to my decision to shuck most of the theology and look to the actual ritual as a means and vehicle through which to reach for the divine.

Haught, it seems to me, does well in helping us to identify mystery in our lives as a constant companion, one that is all too often ignored and missed in  today’s secularized and busy world. We are too busy explaining stuff to relax in the inability to explain that which is and remains mystery.

And mystery is not just the laundry list of unexplained or should I say yet to be explained. Atheists have made that argument and they are correct in doing so. If God remains in what we do not yet know, then God will forever shrink into a smaller and smaller vessel.

No, here, Haught refers to mystery to those questions that truly have no answer. They are the questions beyond and will remain so. Examples are things like is there any reason to be ethical? Depending on how you define the universe, your answer might be any number of things, none of them are “discoverable” as true or accurate.

Religions, he claims, all boil down to two propositions, our lives are replete with mystery and that mystery is gracious. Everything else is window dressing.

There is a great deal more to this book than these rather simplistic statements. In fact, it is a book full of deep meaning and complicated reasoning. It is not a book to read once and move on. It will become a book you will pick up again and again, and review as it helps point you in a new direction, a mature and thoughtful approach to embracing the mystery of God, and thereby enhancing the meaning of your life.

If you think deeply about metaphysical things, then this book is a guide and support to that journey. Be sure to take advantage of the tips offered.

Read it, more than once.

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Thinking Fast and Slow

thinking-fast-and-slow I suppose the first thing that draws you to this sort of book is how does a professor of psychology end up getting a nobel prize in economics?

Well, that is because most economic theory is based upon a model of human decision-making that is structured around rationality, and it turns out that humans by design don’t work that way.

We are not rational, at least as most decisions go. In fact most decisions are made unknowingly by the two parts of our brain, ingeniously named System I and System II.

Oh, and you’ll learn all about the experiencing self, and the remembering self, both of which reside inside your head, although they seldom meet.

It turns out that our primitive brains still are largely in charge as the first on the scene of any event. They are part of system 1, that part of us that views, listens, touches, smells what’s out there, and a whole system retrieves memories and tries to match it all up. The point is friend or foe? Danger or benign? That goes on without you even realizing it.

System II is the thinker, who has to do the math. System I can do 5+5 easily enough, but System II is required for 749 x 32. System II is lazy. It has to be called in, and once employed will often defer to a System I answer and go back to bed before actually going through the facts and being sure.

The book goes on and on with a variety of surprises like this. We are more loss adverse than we are win hopeful. We will gamble bigger and bigger sums to save us from medium or large losses. We become illogical. We will vote in two different directions when the question asks the same exact thing, just words it differently.

We remember the peaks of experiences and the ends of experiences. We tend to judge a whole episode on those two things. Think of it like this. You listen to a beautiful symphony for 20 minutes. At the last 60 seconds, the needle hits a scratch and an awful screech lasts for 15 seconds and then the record is over. We will tend to say, we were listening to a beautiful symphony that was “ruined” at the end by a scratch. In reality we listened to 20 minutes of blissful music which should be way more “good” than the 30 seconds of “bad”.

System I also likes to create stories to explain stuff. Trouble is it doesn’t fact check any of its memories, and just shoves them together into a believable scenario. System II is too lazy to care. That becomes our script for the future. A whole story is now ours. It’s not too far from, disliking the color of the shirt a man wears, to being slightly put off from men with black hair.

You can see what goes on with the economics connection. Corporate decision-making in the guise of the individuals who sit on boards or who are part of the executive leadership  are all simply people who are using these “systems” and these “selves” themselves and they as every bit as bad at making decision correcting and with the correct information as the rest of us.

The book is utterly fascinating with so many examples to prove that you too (me in my case) suffer from the same pitfalls that system I leads us to. It gives you tools to help a bit catching your propensities for faulty reasoning and at least consciously bring system II to play to double-check one’s “intuition” (which is just System I after all).

Knowing yourself better, makes for a more conscious choice.

Read it.

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Meditations

mzl.pioswjiy Marcus Aurelius, is perhaps the most famous of the Stoics. All the more compelling is the fact that Aurelius was Emperor of Rome. As such, Meditations gives us some direct insight into the mind of the man who ruled an empire.

Aurelius, like Epictetus before him, offers the same message, namely that nothing is of human concern except the mind. No person or thing can control anyone’s thoughts, and this is man’s real province.

All things are born and live and die, and change is the rule of all things. It is how we in our minds determine to relate to this swift passage of time and all that happens within it.

Like Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius suggests that all of nature works inexorably toward an end which is by definition just and right. Since we cannot and should not interfere in what is a given, all efforts to fight off death, change outcomes to suit our passions and so forth, are by their very nature wrong and evil. First, they do not work, and keep us from our true purpose, to control how we think.

Aurelius sees the emotional state when it veers away from calm, equanimity in all things as counter productive. It changes nothing, and in the end we often find that what appears to us at one time as unfair to us or injurious in some way, turns out in the end to be a good. This because of course, nature works all things for good.

Thus we impede good when we try to force outcomes to our way. Our job is to face the reality of each situation with pleasantness, quiet, and acceptance. Our job is to feed the body as it needs, and beyond that, whether we are healthy or ill is not within our power. We accept that sometimes the body is ill, and we, as best we can, ignore that illness and continue on as before.

It is a short read in actuality but one that is best read in fairly short sessions, allowing one to savor and think deeply about what has been said. One should remember that Aurelius says all this while being the most powerful man in his world, and living in circumstances that one can only describe as choice. It is stunning in some ways to see that he sees all this as unimportant to him and to every person in the end.

He continually reminds us that we all die, and that our lives pass out of human thought for the most part, as if we had not been. This is true of all living things. If it all is a transition, than it was meant to be that. If it is final the end, then it was meant to be that. In either case, we can change nothing, and so we should spend no time whatever in worrying about it, or wailing our fate.

These are true stoic sentiments, and ones that we all could benefit from.

We as humans spend so much of our time (proven by study after study) rehashing the past or contemplating and worrying about the future. But the present is all we have, and we have no idea how “long” that present might be. Such is our life, and so our lives to be of value,  must be used to make the most of each moment.

As with all material of this sort (meaning written in a language other than English), translations vary and can impact greatly how much the reader gets from the material. I have no recommendation, but I would suggest that before ordering any translation, it might be best to read a sample of the text to see whether it appeals to you.

Mine was one I had on hand, and not the best I feel, yet I am satisfied that I gleaned the points Aurelius set out to make.

I highly recommend you secure a copy and learn the merits of the stoic life.

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Epictetus: The Discourses

epictetus I decided to spend more time this year with philosophy and I’m not sure why, but I decided to investigate in greater depth the teachings of Epictetus, not the founder, but certainly the greatest exponent of stoicism.

To the average person, stoicism has come to mean, I think, something akin to “grin and bear it.” In other words, it’s merely to put up with life’s woes with a good face.

Nothing is actually further from the truth, for the above implies and is assumed to mean that one is at the same time suffering. Thus, stoicism comes to be similar to the Catholic version of bearing suffering for some greater good.

Actually stoicism is more firmly adjacent to that of Buddhism which works on recognizing suffering is due to attachment to things that are not within one’s actual control.

At it’s most basic Epictetus shows us how to discern what is within our power and what is not, and what is within our power is our thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. Control these, he suggests, and one controls all. One cannot control what any other person will do, one cannot control the weather or other natural events, one cannot control time and its ravages. One can control how one relates or thinks about them.

Happiness is derived from thinking rightly about all things, and not being concerned with all that cannot be controlled. Poverty does not concern me, for I may be able to do nothing about that. But I can determine how I will relate to it. Similarly, having a disease that is fatal is something I can do nothing about, but I can control how I will react to it.

One makes choices in all things. One can choose to eat rightly, or suffer the consequences of eating too much or too little. One can choose to become educated, or not. One can choose to be happy or not. Epictetus, being in his time, of course, suggested that God granted humans this ability, and this is what we should be about, the rest is not up to us.

Those who dislike the religious component simply ignore the God portion and find the teachings still perfectly understandable and doable. It is nothing more than free will. Many a prisoner has testified to it, and we all relate to the statement, you can imprison my body but not my mind.

Stoicism becomes much like Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in that it favors the mean in all things. One neither does too much or too little to lie in that perfect realm.  Of course Epictetus would be the first to say, that one never reaches perfection, but at least “one can be always striving for it.”

Things in themselves are neither good nor evil, but how we relate to them are. If they bring us fear, desire, loathing, or anything of a base nature, then that does not make them evil, but only makes our method of relating evil.

If one concludes that in our modern world life careens ever and ever more out of control, then stoicism offers real relief. As live becomes more complicated, less and less is within any individual’s control, and thus it becomes more necessary that what remains with our control, i.e., how we relate to life, all the more important.

I suggest everyone start here and then move on to other works of a similar nature, the goal being to develop a sense of peace and happiness within one’s life.

Good luck.

 

 

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

uncle-toms-cabin-by-harriet-beecher-stowe Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is so well-known that there is little point in reiterating either the story or the basic themes within in.

Rather, I focus on its value in today’s political and social environment.

More than any other thing, Stowe’s classic must be seen in context. The context of the times in which she wrote. Serialized in 1851 or thereabouts, it was pre-Civil War when slavery was accepted, at least in the South, as the norm, as the way life was meant to be.

This explains perfectly it’s reception in the country. It was wildly popular in the North, and scandalously avoided in the South as a direct attack on the Southern way of life. Few other books could claim such a bifurcated history.

Northerners of course love to tout their “enlightened” opinions about the Africans among them during this pre-emancipation time, but as Stowe points out, there were a variety of those opinions. There were those who wanted full citizenship and rights for the people of color among them, but there were perhaps far more who were divided on this issue. Some wished emancipation but not citizenship or at least full human rights. Others favored a repatriation to Africa.

The chapters about the Quakers and their efforts to support and facilitate the Underground Railroad, moving escaping slaves to Canada is an example of the first position. St. Clare’s discussions with his northern cousin Ophelia point out the inconsistencies of northern opinions and the actual practices of white northerners in their personal relations with Black people.

Of course, years later, African-Americans and whites as well came to denigrate Stowe’s portrayal in many ways. She made a variety of claims about the black psyche and emotional predispositions that today we look upon as both racist and naive. Although she goes to some lengths towards the end to point out the educational and economic advancements of a number of former slaves, she apparently believed that in the main they were by nature more docile and simple than the whites who owned and/or helped them to freedom.

This caused her book to be shunned for a significant period of time. No doubt this is understandable.

However, again we must point out that in context the book was of enormous importance. It is certainly not confirmed but has long been related that Lincoln himself, upon meeting Stowe, referred to her as “the little lady who caused the War.”

As such, it is an important book that captures the convoluted and at times bizarre institution that we call American slavery. There is every sort of person here in terms of the white community. The dedicated abolitionist, who brooks no compromise and risks life and limb to live by principle, the benevolent slave owner in the north, who sells slaves to save the farm, setting into motion a chain of events that both liberates and condemns those whom he owned. In the South we are exposed to the slave trader and the face of owning people as mere commodity, to the owner who owns because he inherited his slaves and does his best to be kind, though never on his own considering it his duty to divest himself of human bondage.

Stowe paints the picture in full, even pointing out those slaves who “went along to get along” as we would say. She claims that each portrait and each vignette is adapted from either personal experiences or experiences related to her by friends and family. She thus claims a authenticity that was much decried in the South of course, who claimed that her stories were untrue, and took sharp issue with the truth.

Faced as they were at that time with a growing hue and cry in the North to end the unnatural institution, it is perhaps no wonder that they saw Stowe as stoking the fires of emancipation and spared no efforts to vilify her efforts.

There are many reasons to read this book, least of which is the portrayal of life during the times in question. It is sad for its misconceptions and laudable for what it attempted to do. No doubt it is both a painful and at some times laughable to many. Still, it is an important chapter in American history and one well captured it seems by Stowe’s attempt.

 

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